Setting Boundaries and Meaning them.


(“Sailing Away”, watercolor, 2005  Jane Kohut-Bartels, an actual sailer used as a coal barge in 1958, England)



This short piece might sound weird, strange or downright mean to some. Frankly, it’s been a long time coming. I’m still learning here so this is certainly not a complete answer, far from it. It’s an issue like an onion, with many layers.  It can be stinky, too. And, it can make us uncomfortable in the doing.

I grew up with a parent who was an extreme narcissist by any score.  I never learned, or actually, I was never allowed to set boundaries as a child or teen.  Since a narcissistic parent doesn’t see their child as anything except an extension of their own person, the offspring setting boundaries is something not tolerated. Hence, it was something I didn’t really know the value of until much later in adulthood and after quite a bit of therapy.

Boundaries mean choices and choices should reflect a healthy sense of oneself. In life we meet all sorts of people, appropriate to our existence and those inappropriate.  When we haven’t an understanding of boundaries, (and this doesn’t just fall out of the sky, we have to learn this) when we are uncomfortable with the behavior of others towards us but don’t know why, we can dismiss these feelings and we can choose inappropriate or unhealthy relationships.  Many times we are afraid of offending, so we open ourselves to what comes down as actual abuse. When we have serious deficiencies in self-worth and don’t value ourselves in healthy and positive ways, we fall to the relationships that are obstacles and become, ultimately, terrible and/or destructive burdens.

Recently, I have been taking stock of this issue.  It has loomed large in my life over the past few years.  Perhaps this is because I have become more conscious of this, and the ties to narcissistic behavior, but also because I have begun to develop a long needed and necessary sense of self-worth. And it isn’t something that is easy. Abuse, emotional and otherwise, comes from not valuing yourself and setting boundaries. There are many people in this world who look for what they perceive as vulnerable people and they latch on for their own benefit.  We call them opportunists.

I remember working at a local university in the early 90’s.  I grew to hate it.  I had a female supervisor who demanded that I give her neck/back rubs. This was not in my job description, but she was a woman who had a lot of issues. She was just a low-class bully, with little to redeem her. I remember complaining to HR and then I realized clerical workers were just seen as shit, expendable.   I was told any employee who went up against a supervisor was sure to lose. The “University would win all the time.”  That was the way it was then.  I don’t know if things have changed at this university, but I had to realize boundaries weren’t encouraged to clerical workers, even though the HR rep knew well my complaint.   I was told “This University isn’t a place to work for everyone. If you can’t take it, quit.”   Amazingly arrogant, but a reflection of the reality of the situation.   I also remember having to cover (and in one case clean up) for the stupid and (at times) drunk designers in the department. These were two girls (they didn’t deserve the title ’women’) who had been there a long time, and they abused their jobs.  On occasion I ended up doing their work in different departments of the University.  I left after five years.  I started to write a book, just a historic novel, but it gave me feet to get away from a situation that was debilitating. This situation was so bad I had nightmares. I was in despair.  A few weeks away from this mess and those feelings passed.  I hadn’t set  boundaries and I was afraid IF I did, I would lose my job and probably in that highly dysfunctional department, would. We had just adopted our only child, and it would have been much better to leave.  My priorities were much screwed.  I was beyond ‘uncomfortable’ but didn’t understand what to do to end this situation. Quitting was a relief, but the basic problem (setting boundaries and meaning them) wasn’t addressed then. Many women are caught in such positions, afraid of the ‘authority’ above them, even if it is a stupid Methodist University.

Again, no boundaries, no resolve.  I didn’t honor or protect myself. I was too fearful about things that others who had better self-worth would have  walked out with little problem.

It’s been a long struggle to come to terms with this issue of boundaries.  Many women just don’t see this as possible or important.  It has everything to do with either the way we are raised, especially when there are psychological issues with parents and also within society’s concepts and expectations of women in general.  Marriage can have a lot to do with this lag.  I am very fortunate in my second marriage.  My first was full of abuse, some physical but mostly emotional.  I had left a narcissistic parent to marry a man who was a carbon copy of my childhood parent.   I didn’t set boundaries, I didn’t know how.  I prolonged my own misery.

A few years ago  I was involved in an online squabble with a bunch of women here in Atlanta calling themselves “Smart Asses”.  As a dear friend pointed out….”They were not so smart, but they definitely are asses.”

I knew a few of them, and some I knew as probable sociopaths.  Possibly more than a few.  Why be involved with these kind of people?  Stupidity on my part and thinking I could make a difference.  One needs to realize that you can’t correct crazy.  Again, I failed to set boundaries, thwarting myself further.  What in Hell was I trying to do with these people? I had nothing really in common with these women (and men) so what was I there for?

(There was a lot of drug use with some of these folk, and it was also in the midst of a heroin usage uptick amongst the middle classes in Atlanta.  I got ‘shamed’ for even mentioning this. )

You can’t change the world; you can only attempt to change yourself.

Recently, a sister in law said (when I asked about her youngest (24 years old) drug addicted son) that “we will not have this conversation”.  Sounds rude?  Perhaps it is, but she was setting a boundary, and I think this healthy.  Setting boundaries isn’t easy.  It takes work, but more so, it takes perseverance.  You have to mean them.

What I have learned about boundaries needs a lot more thought and practice.  However, I have learned some things and these I hope are helpful.

First, know who you are. Know your limits.  Don’t make excuses for them, look at them closely and consider if they are something you can defend.   If you feel uncomfortable with a person or a flock of people, you probably need a boundary of some sort. Maybe several. Go with your gut.

Center yourself in who you are and what you love. In those things you have accomplished. This takes time and a lot of energy and probably some therapy for many of us.  Our wires get twisted in life, but down there, somewhere, if we are honest with ourselves….are the things that make us glow and blossom.  Don’t get caught up in the energy sucking drama of other people.  That’s just a waste of your precious life.  They don’t want any advice, they just want an audience. (I’ve done this myself to some of my friends, and for some reason they are still my friends. My apologies all around…I’m learning.)

When our boundaries are weak, when we are not clear about our value and self-worth, or the value of actually having boundaries we will lean towards all sorts of chaos and drama that isn’t ours. When our boundaries are weak we are also uncomfortable.  We self-doubt most of the time.  Recently I wrote an article titled “Nihilism, Smart Asses, etc.” on the blog and this was because I was trying to ‘fit in’ with people I should have run from like the raging plague.  These people had nothing going in their lives except creating negativity and bitchin’ to the Heavens, but I stepped into it with both feet.  Again, you can’t fix crazy.  If some people have given you the willies before by their past behavior, trust your gut.  They probably haven’t changed much.  Set boundaries and don’t try to climb over the retaining wall because you think you can change a situation.  You probably can’t.  See your boundaries as protection that accompanies you through life.  Respect the need for them and you will begin to respect yourself.

Base yourself in something you love and in something you have pride in accomplishing.  When I feel swayed by other people that I know mean me ‘no good’, are insulting or belittling, that I can see are violating my boundaries, I look at the bindings of my six books sitting in my library.  I look at all these paintings on the walls. These are accomplishments I should honor. They meant I tore myself away long enough to do something positive.  I set boundaries here where I used an enormous amount of energy to do these things.  They were made ‘real’ because I set boundaries on my time and energy and what I would give to the rest of the world.   However, I also know I didn’t do these things all by myself.  Bill Penrose formatted and ‘made real’ the first three books on, and Nick Nicholson did the next three on Amazon.  I’ve known both of these guys for ten years and they are the best friends a person could have. They gave of their time and energies and experience, mostly their enormous hearts and friendship and I am still amazed by their generosity.  The writing was the easy part for me.  I couldn’t have done what they did.  Of course, there are friends along the way, especially in the last five years, other writers, poets and some just wonderful women.  Especially these women, on websites concerning the issues of narcissism, were beacons for me.  They guided me through the maze of abuse and into the light of knowledge.  First, they helped me understand boundaries and then they helped me put them in place.  I owe so much to other people in my life.  They saw someone floundering around in the water, and dragged me to shore.

And that’s the point of life. We can start deficient in these issues, like boundaries, but if we remain so, we impoverish ourselves.  We impoverish our creativity.  Learn from those who can help on these weighty issues, and avoid the negative folk.    Setting boundaries are possible, and also necessary in this fugue of life.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

And….by setting boundaries, I was able to publish these books:

 “A Seasoning of Lust”,, second edition, 2016

   “Song of the Nightingale”,, 2015

   “Pitcher of Moon”, 2014

   “White Cranes of Heaven”, 2012

   “The Zar Tales“, 2010

  “A Seasoning of Lust”, first edition,, 2009


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6 Responses to “Setting Boundaries and Meaning them.”

  1. kanzensakura Says:

    Good job Jane. I was blessed to be raised in a loving and supportive family. But I was taught about boundaries and how to use them. It helped me so much in my life. I am so glad that you are finally finding your sense of self worth and about setting boundsries. Good for you!


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Toni. There are so many women (and men, too) who have ‘delayed’ boundary settings. It’s something absolutely necessary in life, but like so many things of self-confidence and survival, it can be lacking. I am so glad that you had loving and supportive parents. There are so many who don’t. That is probably one of the greatest tragedies of life.
    I was lucky. Being denied parental support in the ways of love and normalcy, I grew up stronger perhaps than if I had. This is not strange or rare at all. I have found many women who have had the same conditions I faced and they are strong, productive, but one thing we always lack: a fullness of confidence. That is why I have recommended Dr. Rollo May’s “The Courage to Create”. A profound book by a man of great intelligence and compassion. This book amazes me every time I pick it up.

    Thank you, Toni. Life is the only venue we have to try to ‘get it right’. And we probably do in the end! LOL!


  3. Frank Hubeny Says:

    Good points about setting boundaries. They help focus energy on the positive.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Frank! I wrote this a few years ago, and my understanding was not all there…but it was enough to compile books and that was from setting boundaries, internally and externally. It’s always a learning process, life.


  5. Caleb Calliste Says:

    Babies and small animals probably love you. Your creative potential seems limitless. Thumbs up! That is the thinking of a creative mind.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you! I don’t know about babies, but small animals do love me, and I love them back. Raising 10 kittens and feeding 10 more strays has enriched my life. thank you, again.


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